March 23, 2008
A Run on a Different Sort of Bank
Food banks are making do with kumquats, pomegranates and artichokes.
As the economy turns sour, there's no need to worry that food for the poor will too. That's because the country's food banks can't keep any on their shelves. A combination of factors have led to fewer food donations while a growing number of people are need of assistance, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Food services for the poor "are scrambling to make up for a loss of government provided surplus items as commodity prices have soared. Surpluses have dropped as some commodities, like corn, are being turned into alternative fuels and others are going overseas as the weak dollar makes U.S. exports more palatable to other countries."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture buys surplus food in order to help farmers by maintaining demand for their crops. But high prices have decreased the need for the government to step in. That's good for farmers, but government money given to food banks is now buying less food than in past years.
"Demand for food-bank assistance is climbing rapidly," says Chris Barrett, a Cornell University professor, "when the resources are falling in dramatic terms because the dollars just don't go as far." Demand is up 20 percent said a spokesman for one network of 250 food banks.
The Journal says:
The East End Cooperative Ministry in Pittsburgh is relying more on daily deliveries from a nearby Whole Foods store, as weekly deliveries from an area food bank have gotten smaller. The ministry group prepares meals in a church basement.
David Hereth, head cook at the soup kitchen, might get kumquats, pomegranates and artichokes, along with more common produce. One day, he received a yellow fruit he had never seen before. After researching the fruit, called a Buddha's Hand, he passed it out to soup-kitchen patrons, along with staples like peanut butter and pasta.
More and more services for the poor are being frequented by middle class families as food and energy prices rise while home values sink.